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Race Relations in the 1930s and 1940s

The problems of the Great Depression affected virtually every group of Americans. No group was harder hit than African Americans, however. By 1932, approximately half of black Americans were out of work. In some Northern cities, whites called for blacks to be fired from any jobs as long as there were whites out of work. Racial violence again became more common, especially in the South. Lynchings, which had declined to eight in 1932, surged to 28 in 1933.

Every section of the South was familiar with the Klan, Konclaves, night-riders, white-sheets hastily gathered from clotheslines and wrapped about furtive figures intent upon upholding order and law in a land poisoned by race prejudice. Fear and violence were substituted for peace and security, no one knew where a flaming cross was to be burned next, no one knew whose cabin would be invaded, whose son, father or husband would be snatched from his bed and hung upon the nearest pine tree.

A chance encounter in the street with a white woman in broad day, an accidental brush by a Negro against a white woman while walking along a crowded thoroughfare, a slight misunderstanding with a white man, failure of a Negro to remove his tattered hat and step the gutter while passing a white man, a sullen demeanor, the slightest pretext was seized upon by the K.K.K. as reason for the favorite Southern pastime . . . terror and intimidation of Negroes.

Although most African Americans traditionally voted Republican, the election of President Franklin Roosevelt began to change voting patterns. Roosevelt entertained African-American visitors at the White House and was known to have a number of black advisors. According to historian John Hope Franklin, many African Americans were excited by the energy with which Roosevelt began tackling the problems of the Depression and gained "a sense of belonging they had never experienced before" from his fireside chats.

Still, discrimination occurred in New Deal housing and employment projects, and President Roosevelt, for political reasons, did not back all of the legislation favored by such groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). When the U.S. entered World War II, labor leader A. Philip Randolph threatened to organize a march on Washington to protest job discrimination in the military and other defense-related activities. In response, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, stating that all persons, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin, would be allowed to participate fully in the defense of the United States.

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Page last modified: 06-10-2017 19:05:49 ZULU